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Democracy Remains Essential in Times of Crisis

Remarks delivered at the Community of Democracies’ 20th anniversary virtual meeting
26 June, 2020

Stéphane Dion
Special Envoy to the EU and Europe and Ambassador to Germany

Good day Honourable Chair Aurescu, Secretary General Garrett, Honourable Madam Albright, Excellency Leissner, and distinguished guests. 

At the occasion of this Community of Democracies’ 20th anniversary, we come together amid a global health crisis, to confirm our desire that every government  respect the democratic principles clearly enounced in  the Warsaw Declaration.  Our responses to the pandemic must also be guided by these very principles.

We recognize that emergency measures may be needed to protect public health in the face of such a pandemic.  These emergency powers should be used exclusively for legitimate public health goals and applied in a non-discriminatory way.  They must meet the basic test of necessity, proportionality, and transparency.  They should never be co-opted for other purposes. They should never become sweeping, indefinite powers, leading to long-term degradation of democratic and human rights institutions, including privacy rights.

Restrictions imposed on the freedoms of movement and peaceful assembly should not target specific groups, minorities or individuals, and should not be used to silence opposition, human rights defenders or journalists.

Security measures to prevent the propagation of COVID-19 cannot be a justification for excessive use of force. Canada urges governments to ensure that their police and armed forces respect human rights in the implementation of emergency measures.

Measures implemented to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic must be developed in consultation with opposition parties and regional governments.

Parliament, the courts, review and accountability bodies, the media and the people themselves must be in a situation to play a role in scrutinizing the actions the government takes to counter COVID-19.  This is essential when one considers that the global pandemic has led to severe economic and social downturns, resulting in increased unemployment, a rise in poverty, and the erosion of health and social benefit protection.     

In this digital age, the COVID 19 pandemic has catalyzed an unprecedented roll-out of surveillance technologies worldwide to track the spread of the virus.  This is a good thing. However, digital technology should never be used as a tool to violate human rights, including peaceful assembly, freedom of movement, and the right to be free from arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy.

Freedom of expression – including media freedom – must be protected. As Professor Larry Diamond, during his concluding remarks at the Ninth Ministerial Meeting of the Community of Democracies, reminded us, tolerance for – and willingness to engage –differing points of view is a core element of democratic culture and should not be eroded.

This is why it is important to advocate with renewed vigor, for the development of a free, open and secure internet.  Its existence has become critical to promote human rights internationally and information sharing, amid the pandemic.

The fact is that democracy remains essential in times of crisis. Our efforts at response and recovery are strengthened when they are inclusive of the views, ideas, and innovations from all elements of society.   

To conclude, Canada is committed to protecting and promoting democracy at home and abroad, through collaboration with other countries, civil society partners, and multilateral organizations. I welcome the continued collaboration in our Community of Democracies to address the ongoing challenges that we face as democracies.  We thank the Romanian presidency for having convened all of us – virtually – here today.

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